Aaron J Ottinger
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
In English 242 we will examine the novel from the nineteenth century to the postmodern era, focusing specifically on the theme of postwar life. In her recent book, War at a Distance, Mary Favret considers how “military conflict on a global scale looked and felt to a population whose armies and navies waged war for decades, but always at a distance. For those at home, the task was to find sentient ground for what often appeared a free-floating, impersonal military operation, removed from their immediate sensory perception” (9). The characters in our novels are no longer fighting wars at a distance but re-approaching their everyday lives. For those characters who never left home, they must readjust to ruined houses and finances, changing power dynamics, and a schedule no longer interrupted (or regulated) by the threat of invasion. Structurally, these novels take place after the climactic battle scene. What can we say about a novel that begins at the dénouement? Are these novels stuck in an ironic mode, without direction, hope, or a clear hero? While a postwar novel might sound bleak, such directionless and confusing periods in history might offer the chance for significantly different ways of thinking, living, and art-making.
Student learning goals
Students will learn to examine a text in relation to its specific political, social, economic, material, or environmental situation. Papers will not need to consider all of these angles, necessarily. Students should choose one historical lens to guide examinations of the text.
Students will be able to perform competent close readings of selected novels.
Students will improve their writing skills generally, and especially with regard to writing about literature and culture.
General method of instruction
It is highly recommended that students have completed English 131 (or its equivalent) prior to taking English 242.
Class assignments and grading
Students should be prepared to write two 5-7 page papers. In the first section of the course, we will learn how to write an academic literary essay, using Jane Austen’s Persuasion as our text. For the second paper, students will focus on one of the three remaining texts by Virginia Woolf, Muriel Spark, or Ian McEwan. Or students can construct a compare and contrast essay using any of the four novels. Paper topics might include but are not limited to (the following list will also covers some of the themes guiding our class conversations):
• postwar things, technics, prosthetics • the romantic, modern, or postmodern postwar novel • memorials and cultural memory • postwar spaces (urban, country, and suburban spaces, the home, etc.) • satire and irony/romance/realism/hyperreality/dystopia • women writers writing on postwar • postwar ecology • postwar socioeconomic situations • healing, trauma, affect • postwar gender roles, race relations, power dynamics • postwar perceptions of time
(25%): Participation: in-class discussion and secondary source presentation (25%): Essay #1 (50%): Essay #2
In order to comply with the W credit, students must revise their work following from teacher feedback. So students will deliver an incomplete first draft of essays 1 and 2 (one page single-spaced), for which they will receive an estimate grade with suggestions for improvement. After receiving feedback, students will then complete both 5-7 page assignments. The minimum page requirement to fulfill the W credit is ten pages, so both essay in their finished form must reach a total of five complete pages (between 300-400 words per page).